Blue Jays: Missing early in free agency turned out to be a blessing

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 28: Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the fi inning at Oracle Park on September 28, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 28: Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the fi inning at Oracle Park on September 28, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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The Blue Jays tried and failed to sign several free agent starters early in the off-season, and those near-misses may have turned out to be a blessing.

It wasn’t exactly a secret that the Blue Jays were looking to improve their starting rotation when the off-season began. I mean, even the GM and Team President came out and said as much in the media, which doesn’t happen very often around these parts.

It then came as no surprise as the Blue Jays were linked to pretty much all of the viable starting rotation candidates on the market, and the rumours were flying around quickly in November and December. And when the best of the free agents started to come off the board, many of us (myself included), started to get a little panicky. What if the Blue Jays struck out in free agency and had to return a similar rotation?

Reports indicated they made offers to Jake Odorizzi, who eventually took his one-year 17.8 million dollar qualifying offer to stay in Minnesota. Rumour had it that the Blue Jays outbid the Rangers for Kyle Gibson, and yet the right-hander chose to move to Texas. There were even varying reports that they made real offers to top-end guys like Gerrit Cole and Zach Wheeler. It sounds like the front office was very aggressive, and yet they were still coming up empty as the end of a calendar year was approaching.

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On December 11th, they managed to add Tanner Roark to the group, joining Chase Anderson who had been acquired in a November trade. However, as much as Roark will help, the contract was viewed as a “back-up plan”, and the fan base arguably became more restless even with an addition. When Shun Yamaguchi was signed a week later, it felt like the Blue Jays had missed the boat.

It wasn’t until just before the break that the Blue Jays’ front office gave the fan base the Christmas present they were waiting for, signing Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four-year, 80 million dollar deal to become the ace of the pitching staff. We collectively breathed a sigh of relief knowing that a legitimate top-end starter had been added, and that an important step in the process of becoming a contender again had taken place.

Looking back on the timeline now though, it could have been very easy for the Blue Jays to have signed someone else and closed the book on acquiring Ryu altogther. Think about it, imagine they gave Odorizzi three years and 50 million, or signed someone like Dallas Keuchel. Do you think they still would have added Ryu? I’m not so sure, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they ended up better off.

By missing out on their previous free agent targets, the front office was given an extra sense of urgency when it came to signing Ryu, knowing he was one of the last legitimate upgrades available on the free agent market. It just so happened that he was also one of the very best, which he’s proven by leading the National League in ERA over the last season and a half. He has had a bit of a shaky injury history, which is likely why he wasn’t snapped up earlier, but there’s a very good argument that the Blue Jays may have gotten the best deal of any free agent pitcher this off-season.

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And there’s a very good chance that it wouldn’t have happened if they had been successful with their earlier free agent pursuits. As Garth Brooks sings, “Some of God’s greatest gifts, are unanswered prayers”.

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